Katy Kelly is the author of the Lucy Rose series, and a brand new book about Lucy Rose’s friend Adam Melon, Melonhead. Ms. Kelly was kind enough to answer our questions, and we’re happy to share her responses.
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No. My mom and dad were writers. I wanted to be an artist. My parents thought this was splendid and made sure I had enough supplies and occasional classes.
When did you start writing?
Although we didn’t know it at the time, my brother and sisters and I learned to write over dinner. The whole family came to the table with news of the day— reports from school, work, and the neighborhood. My dad is a funny man. My mom is empathetic. He talked about his day as a newspaperman, covering the Truman and then the Kennedy White House. My mom, who grew up in Louisiana, told us about debutante balls, a grandfather who wore spats and gambled away the family fortune, dresses made to fit 18 inch waists, whether on not the wearers had them. She was passionate about civil rights. My sibs and I listened to them and topped each other– when you are one of four you learn to hold your audience. We figured out how to make funny stories funnier, how to peel away extra words, what to hold back to make the ending a surprise. Three of us became writers*, though I didn’t start until I was in my later twenties.
I first got a degree in Painting and Printmaking and worked as an illustrator and later on projects with my husband, a graphic designer. The move to journalism was borne of desperation. Our daughter, Emily, was in her sixth month of non-stop colic when a friend offered a two-days-a-week job at People magazine. I would have done it for free.
(* My sister, Meg Kelly, is an Emmy Award winning screenwriter. Our beloved brother, Michael Kelly, was a syndicated columnist and the editor of The Atlantic Monthly. On April 3, 2003, he was killed while covering the war in Iraq.)
If you weren’t a writer, what your job be?
I imagine I would still be an illustrator but maybe not. Once I master a skill I tend to try something new.
What advice would you give to young writers?
Read a lot. Write often. Edit. Rewrite. Don’t settle for almost perfect. And eavesdrop. When you’re on the bus or in line at the market, listen to the conversations around you. It is a great way to learn how people really talk and to develop an ear for dialog.
What is the hardest part of writing a book?
Sitting down and doing it. Sometimes I pack up my laptop and work at Politics & Prose bookstore near my house, or at the library or in a Starbucks. That keeps me from frittering time on Facebook and other distractions.
Do you have any ideas for new books right now?
I have mapped out the next Lucy Rose book—she’s going to camp—but I’m not exactly sure what is going to happen.
All the characters in your books are unique. Are Lucy Rose or Melonhead (or any of the other characters) based on real people?
I often steal from my own life. Lucy Rose’s grandparents, Madam and Pop, are based on my mom and dad. They live in big, wacky Victorian house very much like the one in which I grew up. Melonhead is very much like my five nephews and my brother Michael, when he was a boy. Lucy Rose’s teacher, Mr. Welsh, is based on—and named after—my daughters’ beloved kindergarten teacher.
Do you base any of your plots on happenings from your own childhood?
Some plot lines are based on life. My daughter’s runaway hamster inspired the great guinea pig escape and eventual rescue. But I upgraded his species and added the dumbwaiter adventure. (My childhood home had a dumbwaiter but, unlike Melonhead, we were not inclined to ride in it.)
Did you like to read when you were a kid? What kind of books? Who is your favorite author or book?
When I was small I was mad for Blueberries for Sal and even madder for The Night Before Christmas, which I insisted my very patient mother read to me every night for a year. My own daughter paid me back. I can still recite God Night Moon from memory.
I liked stories where kids were independent.. That’s probably why I later went for Nancy Drew, Harriet the Spy and Homer Price and the Donut Machine.
As a teenager I loved Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers mysteries. When I finished I would re-read and look for the clues I had missed.
P.G. Wodehouse remains the cure for everything that ails me.
What are your hobbies when you aren’t writing?
I still draw and paint. I hang out with my family and friends. I visit schools. I volunteer. And I read.
Do you have any subjects that you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t?
At this moment, I can’t think of one. It was my great good fortune to work in newspapers when the industry was flush and adventurous. I got to satisfy a lot of curiosities during nine years as a feature writer for USA Today’s Life section.
I feel incredibly lucky to spend my days in the company of Lucy Rose and Melonhead.
Thanks to Katy Kelly! We greatly appreciate her fascinating answers to our questions. Be sure to check out Melonhead, and all her other books.
Follow this link to visit her Random House website.